Return to Cerró Castillo (Aysén, Chile)

(Previous trip here)
Party: Mum, Sis and I

Nam hadn’t been… so why not go again? This time we opted for a more touristic route, heading directly up to Laguna Cerró Castillo and exiting via Las Horquetas. We were blessed with the amazing autumn colours, and a distinct lack of people. Partly due to the time of the year, but more so, thanks to the Corona Virus. Guess it’s good for something 🙂

Contents:

Prelude:

After crossing Río Ibáñez vía a somewhat cantankerous cable car (the locals didn’t even consider it safe!), we spent the day on the side of the Carretera Austral.
After watching some locals tack across the river with relative ease, I set about trying to remove some of the splinters from yesterday’s bush bashing using a thorn from the versatile Calafate.
I did some proof reading and perhaps even a bit of writing, in between eagerly trying to thumb down passing cars to no avail.
Our meager food stuff dwindled away and we were soon out of water too. Nam took the cable car, across to refill from the presumably cleaner tributary. I was soon called to help haul on the rope. On the way back, just after leaving the opposite platform, the car jammed. Maybe in the same spot when we’d initially found it? It looked like she might be stranded (she’d had a nightmare that night!), but after we’d almost given up on her, she pulled on the cable grabber with all her body weight, in perfect timing with the sinusoidal resonance we’d induced in the dicey haul rope… and motion. We kept the car moving, not wanting to have to risk overcoming static friction again. It was a good work out, but eventually the car docked and we could relax, thinking how much easier it would have been to simply use our water purification tablets.

After having discussed walking several times, and a small increase in how much I was willing to pay; we managed to flag down a colectivo late in the afternoon. Somewhat desperate, we agreed to the inflated price ($3kpp) for transport to Cerró Castillo. He’d passed us in the opposite direction that morning, he mentioned as we dumped our packs in the back.
The drive was nicer than I recalled but it wasn’t long before we were again at the bus stop my parents and I had become well acquainted with our last time in Cerró Castillo. We made a quick plan to get food: Nam guard the packs, Mum and I get food. We headed to the store on the corner. The lady coldly told me that we couldn’t buy anything, we weren’t locals… What!? My heart dropped in my chest. Was it the whole town? We left and headed to a home bakery marked on the map. It said ‘cerrado’ on the door, but the lady opened for us anyway and we eagerly purchased a bag of dense bread rolls (Pan Amasado?). We couldn’t help but chow down on some as we walked to investigate other mini markets. On the way to the plaza (hopeful for free WiFi), we met our first rock climber who gave us some tips on where we could at least charge our things. He had looked a little out of place and my hunch paid off, we’d come back tomorrow. Now Internet was the last thing we needed to sort out.

The recommended ‘Villarrica’ store proved to be the ticket, the lady happily getting the items that we requested from the shelves . (This isn’t the standard way stores work in Chile, but the virus had altered things a bit and now most smaller stores were cordoned off and open only to verbal orders). We got some spaghetti, sauce, cheese, and some fruit for good measure, making sure we didn’t forget the chocolate! We headed back and cooked in the park under the lights soon making our way to Estero Bosque to spend the night.

Day 0: Shopping in Cerró Castillo

I woke really early just after the curfew ended, but opted for another half hour or so. The morning chilly, the near full moon lighting my surroundings. I still needed a headlamp as I’d pitched my tent under the bridge which had spared me from the morning dew.
I set a quick pace into town again, intimidating the aggressive dogs with stones and soon had a battery and Nam’s phone on charge. We were hopeful my SIM card would work on her phone and we could all tether. I spent several hours writing messages and emails, sorting out my map files etc.
When the others arrived mum and I did a big shop for our next adventure as well as the more pressing breakfast. Nam set about putting credit on my SIM.
It took a while for us to get everything handed over. We returned for breakfast. Nam bought credit in a nearby store (the webpage again wasn’t working. It wasn’t me last time!), and soon a maelstrom of messages poured in. I was there for the rest of the day working my way through them. I also had a call with Jan who was so much friendlier than the first time we’d spoken. He gave us a good suggestion for another trip. Despite our plan including free WhatsApp, it appears that voice calls are not included; for after furnishing the call, our data soon ran out. Oh well, we’d all pretty much done everything we’d wanted. We even had a movie for a rainy day.
Instead of going to the same spot for the night, a brewing black sky contributed to us deciding to spend the night concealed on the library steps. A little before the curfew took affect, we took up our places.
The others proved to sleep well. I was woken by a dog who first barked at me, then decided to gnaw on a bone right bedside me, followed by dragging bits of noisy plastic in and out of the crunchy poplar leaves. At least the rain held off.

Day 1: Into the Clouds

My alarm woke me at 5am as planned. I woke the others up and headed over to the gazebo to give our batteries a little extra juice. It wasn’t really worth it as we were quickly packed and ready to head out.
It had been a warm night, and the chill of the previous morning was absent. In the dark, we walked out of town over the estero and up the mountain. We had about a km in elevation gain.
The morning started to brighten as we headed up the repurposed sheep and cattle trails. I startled a resting flock of sheep, who got up to part for me as I continued up and over a stile. We passed a mirador of Peñón, but it was too cloudy to make out the summit. The Estero Bosque passed through a section of cañón below.

A little further on we breakfasted within the shelter of some trees, a fine drizzle increasing as we climbed higher encouraging us to put on pack covers, and mum, the last to don a rain jacket. Just after entering the park boundary, we passed a baño and then a small drinking source. Out of the trees now, the track climbed more steeply upwards, past another estero and finally plateaued out. I’d been thinking about where to camp… my personal choice was down by the laguna, but Nam hadn’t been here before, so I thought the hidden tent site I had spotted on my way up Cerró Rojo (on our previous trip) would be a good option. I dropped my pack and scouted around quickly locating the site which included an emergency cache – we’d fit.
Back at the track I huddled in the wind shadow of a boulder, the clouds parting a little too reveal the glacier on Cerró Castillo’s front face, as well as the mountains on the other side of the valley below.
Mum soon arrived and seconded the decision to camp high. We collected some snow whilst waiting for an encumbered Sis to arrive. Leaving the track, we headed up to make camp. Mostly above the clouds now, it was cold, but at least no precipitation. Rocks securing the guy lines, we piled into one tent to watch a childhood film we’d talked about on our last trek.
It snowed a little and it took forever for me to cook dinner. Our small canister stove struggling with the temperature.

It was a cold night. Around -15C was my guess. Nam measured -5C in their tent. My flattened Z-mat was no longer adequate and I slept poorly, mostly on my side to minimise contact with the ground.

Day 2: Into El Bosque

I woke early, though perhaps I was never really asleep. Wind buffeted my tent, from the opposite direction to last night, rendering the large boulder we’d pitched camp beside quite useless now. I’d planned to walk about waiting for the sunrise so with steel will got out unclipping the innards of my tent and collapsing some pole sections. I sat my pack on top with a few solid rocks. I was worried that without my body inside (not to mention the unanchored corners), it’d blow away and probably get damaged.
I headed off to the lookout my feet sinking into the ground elevated by a crystal structure. When I felt the wind’s icy fingers, I actually turned around before tenacity turned me back to the lookout once again. I huddled behind a rock admiring the jagged peaks and hanging glacier; the waves ripping across the lake not escaping my notice. Sun soon touched the peaks, the golden light slowly moving down as the earth turned to meet the sun. Hoping to catch some extra warmth I began climbing up towards Cerró Rojo, small pools of water frozen solid, flat surfaces all of them except one which had frozen as if capturing the moment just after a water drop collided with its surface. Wind?
I can’t really recall if there was a view to be had. It was certainly cold and I quickly dropped down to our camp. Packed away my rain fly and nursing cold fingers eventually crawled into my sleeping bag within my collapsed tent.
The others began packing some time later and when I pocked my head out from my sleeping bag, I quickly got up as to not keep them waiting. I followed quickly behind meeting them at the lookout. Visibility was good, but the cold made it hard to enjoy and we soon descended by a ramp down to the grassy area below. After crossing the stream, we breakfasted and preceded to lie in the grass, soaking up the sun and surprisingly took off some layers up as we warmed. We probably should have camped low.

Mum soon made a move and we followed dropping down into the patchy trees where the old La Tetera camp was once located. There were some familiar sections as we entered the forest pausing briefly to use the dunny at the the new El Bosque. Surprisingly it looked quite different with some expansion in area, more tables, a side to the dunny, and more unfinished construction. We decided to push on a little further and camp at the old site which (like La Tetera) was technically closed. The bridges at the river crossings were quite hazardous with the build up of ice. We didn’t even use one section. Following Nam’s lead to jump instead.

We pitched our tents right beside the trail and painstakingly coaxed a fire to life. I need to stress painstakingly. Almost everything was wet. And I even burnt our plastic to help. The only thing that saved us was some old wood from the dismantled dunny.
We ate very well. There was no shortage of food this trip. A new winning combo of spaghetti, lentils and cheese!

Day 3 (Sun 12th): Río Turbio

It was nice not to be freezing. Comparatively, the morning was warm.

We headed up the other branch of Estero Bosque quickly crossing to the other side. There were some nice views of the mountains before we left the forest behind entering the barren alpine before the pass. The hanging glacier and waterfalls seemed much less impressive this time. I think there was a lot less water flowing down over the rocks.

Looking up at Portezuelo El Peñon

The pass was nearly clear of snow. There were some fresh drifts from this year’s first snow storm, and a couple of icier persistent patches from long ago. I paused after crossing the first of these, resting to cool down a bit. The v-shaped talus pass was alive with the sound of dancing rocks, bouncing down the steep sides. I imagined myself getting pummeled in the head by one and soon decided to move on. I waited, sitting perched on a boulder on the other side, looking down the Turbio valley which also looked rusted with the onset of winter.
The route soon left the draw (unfortunately mum missed the turn and continued unnecessarily down a bit further – I later noticed that all the signage only assumes someone walking in the other direction), and we napped a bit before finding the motivation to press on. Passing the familiar waterfall (we had paused here to warm in the sun on our last visit), we dropped down into the forest soon reaching the división signed to Laguna Turbio. Interestingly though, someone had covered this part with duct tape. I liberated the sign and used the tape to patch some holes on my puffy.
Crossing an open section of alluvial, we were quite close to the Turbio campground, but after some discussion, we decided to camp more in the open to enjoy the mountains.
Again, we got an illegal fire going.

Mum heading off to get water from the river.

Day 4-5: Las Horquetas

There was a heavy dew in the morning and we waited quite a while for the morning to warm up before finally heading off. Unfortunately I had a pretty bad hemorrhoid (too much cheese?) so walking was a little painful at first, but I soon forgot about it.
Quickly, we passed the ghostly official camp, using the dunny before moving on. Soon we were in virgin territory which was nice even if it was just an old road. We passed the empty ranger station (liberating a couple of face masks that mum thought might come in handy since you couldn’t actually buy any – they were out of stock everywhere!), and soon left the park boundaries. We passed some lagunas, not marked on some maps, and I kept an eye out for the trail that was supposed to be heading up the mountains somewhere on the other side. I didn’t see it.
In several places along the old road we saw tailings from a long forgotten lumber milling operation. We also passed an open area where the foundations of an old homestead still reminded us of the pass. A 44 gallon drum, tyres, and dilapidated corral decorated the area.

I’m not sure why, but I always seem surprised when I see fish in the water here. I guess fish and glaciers don’t mix in my head, which is silly when I think of Antarctica… but that’s how it is.
We had to ford the rivers several times. I wondered where all entry fee money goes? There seemed less maintenance in the park than on many gaucho trails. Is it a more authentic experience? For us it was just annoying. I managed to create some dicey stepping stones… I rolled well (a pun on dicey in case my word choice was confusing). Nam, however, did not fare not so well; though she helped mum get safely across. Not much further on were some prefect railway sleepers at another milling site. It’s surprising no one has used them for anything… like bridges!

Fording once or twice more and passing the restored and locked Puesto Viejo, we were lucky that a tree offered dry passage over the next crossing. Looking down into the pastures below we saw lots of cows. With our late start we didn’t really have enough time to get back to the road in daylight, and even if we did we’d probably be sleeping there. So instead we decided to head back and camp by the river. Cerró Peñón dominating the mountains as we walked back to find a suitable spot.
Nam made a fire on the road (her first one ever!). We set the tents up in the trees hoping they’d be more protected from the heavy morning dew.

Day 5

Mum left before I had even gotten up, and Nam too it turns out. I packed by myself in the frigid morning air, the cold giving me cause to hurry. The sun just touched me as I headed out, scattered the ashes and hurried back for a final look at the glaciated Cerró Peñón.
The track dipped down to join the cows, and then to my surprise there was mum beside a shack on the other side of the river. She should be much further ahead… and I’d thought there were no more river crossings… Nam hadn’t passed. Oh no! Mum had gone the wrong way. It wasn’t good, and she broke up a bit when she realised she’d have to cross back. She’d been in a bad mood since last night. I waited for her to cross but then went off ahead, not really wanting to be around her.
After a section of swamp (Nam wet her feet here), the road snaked upwards and I passed many cows before a stile over a second gate. There were many more puestos and corrals off to the sides and a myriad of small roads branching off. I heard a vehicle, and was surprised when a ute appeared around the corner ahead. At first I was worried that the red logo on its side as that of CONAF, but it was just the flammable liquids symbol, and the dogs in the back credited it with being a farm truck. They pulled through a gate to a mishmash of sun bleached dilapidated structures, and I didn’t even have a chance to say hello. They’d apparently beeped and waved to Nam who was somewhere ahead, so there was no animosity. Through the shade of the mountain I passed the boarded up guardaparque and after a small wooden bridge joined Nam by the entrance gate. She’d walked into the river to get a great photo of a kingfisher(?).

We sat on the side of the Carretera Austral (now a common theme), had some brunch in the sun and waited.

It wasn’t overly long when a truck stopped. Marcelo wanted one in the cab, and stressed that we had to use a face-mask. It turns out mum’s decision to grab them had been a good one. Nam sat up front as she hadn’t driven this section of road, and also spoke conversational Spanish though apparently the driver wasn’t too interested in talking, preferring to listen to tunes.
I got mum to stay quiet as we approached the check point. But it wasn’t really an issue. Marcelo actually was very open about us being in the back and they never even checked our identification. Before we knew it, we were let out at the entrance to Cerró Castillo (the pueblo). We thanked him and soon found out we couldn’t buy food at the corner store. Welcome back to civilisation!

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